‘Such a crazy few days and so much fun’ - Sitting in the front row at Eurovision
- Credit: Archant
As you settle down to watch the Eurovision Contest from your armchair, do you dream of having a seat at the glitzy spectacular?
Clare Butler is one of those who has had the Eurovision experience. She writes: "It was a cheese-fest like no other as dozens of Eurovision fans boarded a plane to Sweden waving flags and singing Abba's Waterloo. The Globe Arena in Stockholm held host to the 61st Eurovision in 2016 - and I was lucky enough to get front row tickets.
"There was something endearing about letting your inhibitions go and jumping up and down with a bunch of strangers on live TV.
"Yet it was even stranger to see all kinds of weird and wonderful acts take to the stage to proclaim love for their country.
"Apart from getting tangled in an Irish flag while screaming for Westlife's Nicky Byrne in semi final two (and swooning over host Måns Zelmerlöw); highlights also include bumping into that year's winner from Ukraine at Stockholm Arlanda airport.
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"Being within touching distance of Justin Timberlake while he sang Can't Stop The Feeling was amazing too!
"Such a crazy few days, but fair to say I loved every minute of it."
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Clare's all-time favourite Eurovision song came from "Sweden's finest, Charlotte Perrelli, with Hero, from Eurovision 2008! Full of sass and her diva qualities brought the meaning of the song to life on stage.
"Charlotte was a recognisable face to return to Eurovision that year too, after winning for Sweden with Take Me to Your Heaven eight years before under her maiden name Charlotte Nilsson."
Superfan James is a veteran of five contests - and friends with a winner
Eurovision superfan James Sheen, from Bury St Edmunds, was also in Stockholm. In fact, so far he has attended the famous contest five times - the other occasions being Düsseldorf in 2011, Vienna in 2015, Kiev in 2017 and Lisbon in 2018.
He has loved every minute - but this year he has not made the trip to Israel. He decided against because of the expense and the political situation.
So why does he love Eurovision so much? "It's the variety of music," he said. "When you're there, you're just having so much fun!"
For the last two years, he has even received "fan accreditation", making him one of only a few people from the UK to go backstage and giving him the chance to meet and interview contestants.
"It's very difficult to choose a favourite song because there are just so many - even more with the semi-finals!" James said. "But I would have to choose Anne Marie David's song, Tu Te Reconnaîtras (Wonderful Dream), which won in 1973. I am a big fan and have become good friends with Anne Marie."
In 2017, Anne-Marie travelled from her home in France to visit Bury St Edmunds, together with composer and musician Jean Musy, to help mark the St Edmund's Day celebrations, spearheaded by the We Love Bury St Edmunds website founded by James. The pair performed in St Mary's Church.
Anne Marie also returned to Bury in 2018 and performed at a "Photobomb the King" event outside the cathedral to help promote St Edmund's Day.
She and Jean Musy have now created an oratorio, Edmund, The Legend of a King, which will be premiered at the Church of St Nicolas in Boulogne Sur Mer on July 12. James will be travelling to Boulogne for the big occasion.
James said: "Another song I really rate is When We're Old by Ieva from Lithuania (an entry in 2018). It's a very good song and she is a really nice person
He has watched the show, on TV or in person, each year since he was eight. Then, he saw The New Seekers perform Beg, Steal or Borrow, only to lose to Apres Toi by Vicky Leandros. "She's a good singer and still going really strong," James said.
Usually, James follows all the run-up to the contest and knows all the songs before the semi-finals and final are screened, but this year he hasn't done so and is looking forward to discovering the songs along with millions of others around the world.